Over the university’s spring break, I met with and virtually interviewed six students. I gathered this group of young adults for their unique quarantine experiences and no one experience was exactly the same. I asked six questions for six people, hoping to capture how pandemic life as a young adult has weighed on them.
We’ve had a full year to adjust to a pandemic lifestyle, but can you reflect back and say what was the hardest thing to adjust to when we first entered lockdown?
Eli is an honors student majoring in computer science at University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s president of UMass’ table tennis team, who won their conference regionals almost exactly a year ago today. Eli has restless energy and answers with humorless laughter, though he remains sincere about his experience.
EB: Working in place. By far. Being in the same place the whole time. It felt so awful feeling viscerally disgusting. I would wake up at 11, turn on my laptop, have two classes, and go back to bed. I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn't get my work done when I had to. I was in a state of anxiety all the time. I was always uncomfortable.
With the extra time, do you think you’ve had the space or opportunity to grow? Have you changed and would you say for the better?
Jayden was a fall semester college student before choosing to withdraw and focus on her work and mental health. An avid activist and outspoken, Jayden was refreshingly open and honest.
JP: In the summertime it's just free thought and freedom. Everything’s better. I think...I don’t know. It’s hard because obviously scientifically my brain is still developing, so yes I’ve changed as a person. But I’m not where i want to be yet in life, and it's just a matter of knowing where i want to be in life and how to go after it. And learning what I’m passionate about. I’m in a better place than where I was a year ago, mentally.
What’s something positive you can take from the past 12 months?
Amanda is a junior at University of Massachusetts Amherst who’s juggling two majors and a club sport. She is currently living off campus and continuing to quarantine alone. She has a permanent smile on and seems eager to answer.
AM: Being able to spend more time with my brothers. I even get to watch my younger brother with autism during his Zoom classes, which allows me to see his learning progress, and is a great opportunity because I am studying to be a special educator. Another thing I like is working from the comfort of my bed.
Are you happier now? Is there anything that would make you happier?
Alyssa seemed very contemplative the whole interview. She’s one of the many students who graduated high school in a pandemic and now is a first time freshman at the University of Arkansas. Alyssa was soft-spoken, armed with succinct responses.
AW: No. COVID ending.
Have you noticed culture shift around the expression of sexuality, fashion, and politics?
Luke is a computer science major at Drexel University. He comes off as friendly, and perhaps a little goofy--the kind of person you meet and instantly become friends. He’s one of the only people I know who’s gotten coronavirus and, thankfully, had relatively mild symptoms and recovered quickly. He recently got approved for a study abroad program this coming semester.
LM: I think I've noticed that a lot of people my age are more passionate and interested in politics. I think this is mostly because people my age have finally reached the voting age and have become more involved with politics and current events because they actually have a voice in what is going on in this country now. The biggest interaction I experienced were the George Floyd protests this summer. At the one I attended with my friends in Boston, I remember being surrounded in the crowd by almost exclusively people my age. I would say around 75% of the people I saw that day were of high school or college age and it definitely lit a fire in me to see everybody carrying the same passion as me.
Do you want things to go back to the way they were, or are you looking toward the future?
Amanda Qu is a high school sophomore, experiencing more than half of her high school career online. Before quarantine, Amanda was heavily involved in speech debate and table tennis and proved to be an outgoing student. She seems relaxed, sitting with both knees up on her chair and an easy attitude.
QU: To be honest, I hate change. I generally don't like it when things don't go according to the schedule or plan, so this pandemic thing really screwed me over for a period of time. I'm not too sure what the future will look like, and I tend to gravitate toward what I know and what I'm comfortable with/used to, so I would prefer to go back to the way things were. Life was stressful back then, but life was good.
Have you gained any new philosophies or spiritual understandings?
Maddie is a first time freshman at the University of Arkansas. As an essential worker and full time student, this pandemic has been particularly hard on her. She’s multitasking homework and cooking dinner when I begin the interview.
MF: I’ve gained a new perspective on life, usually I’ve just been reminding myself that we’re on a rock floating in space. So even when things feel like they’re falling apart, I know that they’re not that important in the grand scheme of things.
There’s still a big fight ahead. We don’t know what’s left for us before the pandemic is over, but there’s hope. Always hope. Life will go on in the most unexpected ways, at times when you think it wouldn’t.